COVID-19 Update

Karnataka: Open season

Print edition : September 25, 2020

Rapid antigen test conducted at a Jayanagar Shopping Complex by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike in Bengaluru on August 19. Photo: K. MURALI KUMAR

Karnataka registers more COVID cases following the ramping up of testing and removal of most of the restrictions.

KARNATAKA, along with Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, has contributed significantly to the increasing tally of COVID cases in the country. Since late August, more than half the daily deaths in the country have come from these three States. The cumulative figure for positive cases in Karnataka stood at 3,51,481 by the evening of September 1, of which 90,999 were active. The State’s highest single-day spike was surpassed several times in August, with 9,386 cases reported on August 27. The number of persons discharged stood at 2,54,626 on September 1, which means that over 72 per cent of the patients had recovered.

Karnataka has reported 5,702 deaths (a case fatality rate of 1.62 per cent) since March 8 when the first COVID-19 death in India was reported from the State. Karnataka has the third highest number of active cases in the country currently. A host of senior politicians, including D.K. Shivakumar and Nalin Kumar Kateel, State presidents of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party respectively, and two Cabinet Ministers, K.S. Eshwarappa and Shashikala Jolle, have tested positive for COVID.

Bengaluru Urban continued to remain the district with the largest number of cases in the State with 1,32,092 cases reported cumulatively, of which 38,906 were active. With its recovery rate hovering around 69 per cent, Bengaluru was slightly short of the State average. The city reported more than 2,500 cases almost every day since mid-August. It also accounted for more than a third of the COVID-related fatalities in the State with 2,005 deaths reported by the evening of September 1. Contact tracing improved in August after Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the Health Departments of all States to enhance contact tracing. War-room data of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) indicated that 7.7 persons were traced as primary and secondary contacts of every infected patient.

Other districts with a significant number of active cases included Mysuru (5,299), Ballari (5,145), Belagavi (3,339), Hassan (2,807), Shivamogga (2,769) and Dakshina Kannada (2,538). August was the severest month for Karnataka. The State crossed three lakh cases on August 26, of which 2.18 lakh cases were added to the tally in August alone (one lakh of which were added between August 13 and August 26).

In a conversation with mediapersons in Bengaluru, Karnataka Medical Education Minister Dr K. Sudhakar attempted to allay concerns about the latest surge in cases, which he said was linked to increased testing. “We need to test more and ensure that the number of deaths remains low,” he said. Karnataka improved its testing capacity with more than 75,000 samples tested every day (through both rapid antigen detection test and RT-PCR methods). The connection between increased testing and number of positive cases was borne out by a reading of data for end August. The only day in the past two weeks when less than 8,000 positive cases were reported in the State was on August 31 when only 43,132 samples were tested leading to the relatively low number of 6,495 cases being detected. The BBMP offered free testing at all health centres in Bengaluru, but many people were reluctant to get tested.

Dr C.N. Manjunath, director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology, and Dr Giridhar. R. Babu, professor and head of epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India (both members of the clinical expert committee constituted by the State Health Department) stated that there was no cause for alarm and linked the rise in the number of cases to increased testing. Manjunath said that the spike in cases meant that “there were asymptomatic cases in the community and this meant that ‘peaking’ had begun”. Giridhar Babu stated that the increase in the detection of cases indicated “that we are identifying infections in the community early on and stopping them from infecting others”.

Approximately 35,000 people are tested per million population in Karnataka, which is considerably lower than Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. In order to further ramp up testing in the State, the Health Department has set itself the task of doubling the test rate to achieve the optimum target of 75,000 to one lakh persons per million population.

Meanwhile, the tussle between government and private hospitals, which have been mandated to reserve 50 per cent of hospital beds for COVID patients, continues. Dr R. Ravindra, president, Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA), wrote to the Executive Director of the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust (SAST) demanding that the government “release due payments” and clear bills of COVID patients referred by the Health Department expeditiously. Dr. Ravindra added that if these dues, approximating Rs.35 crore, were not released soon, salaries of staff members would not be paid next month.

As part of Unlock 4.0, Karnataka will see further relaxations in September leading to concerns that the number of cases may rise during the month. Pubs and restaurants have been allowed to serve liquor from September 1. Gathering of up to 100 people will be allowed from September 21. Excise Minister H. Nagesh told mediapersons in Belagavi that excise revenue had come down by 50 per cent, resulting in a loss of Rs.3,000 crore. He hoped that with new guidelines in place, revenue would flow in again.